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Is atheism rational?

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What evidence do you have that they could be possible? How do you know they could be possible?

When you say possible, you mean it the way Peikoff defines it:

  • Peikofff - X is possible” means: in the present context of knowledge, there is some, but not much, evidence in favor of X and nothing known that contradicts X.

When I say possible, I mean the way the rest of the world defines it:

  • American Heritage - Capable of happening, existing, or being true without contradicting proven facts, laws, or circumstances.
  • Webster - Capable of existing or occurring, or of being conceived or thought of; able to happen; capable of being done; not contrary to the nature of things;

The reason Rand/Peikoff switched the meanings seems fairly obvious, it's to support their hidden axiom that if there's no evidence that "A is true" (arbitrary statement) then "A is false". Besides not seeming very logical, the non-objectivist books and lecture notes on logic that I've found call their line of reasoning Argument Ad Absurdum (Argument from Ignorance). Since we disagree on this fundamental logical point, further discussions seems pointless.

I again thank everyone in this thread for their opinions and helping me to understand the Rand/Piekoff view of the world. I do plan to read her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemiology.

Edited by LifeIsAbsurd
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When you say possible, you mean it the way Peikoff defines it:

  • Peikofff - X is possible” means: in the present context of knowledge, there is some, but not much, evidence in favor of X and nothing known that contradicts X.

When I say possible, I mean the way the rest of the world defines it:

  • American Heritage - Capable of happening, existing, or being true without contradicting proven facts, laws, or circumstances.
  • Webster - Capable of existing or occurring, or of being conceived or thought of; able to happen; capable of being done; not contrary to the nature of things;

The reason Rand/Peikoff switched the meanings seems fairly obvious, it's to support their hidden axiom that if there's no evidence that "A is true" (arbitrary statement) then "A is false". Besides not seeming very logical, the non-objectivist books and lecture notes on logic that I've found call their line of reasoning Argument Ad Absurdum (Argument from Ignorance). Since we disagree on this fundamental logical point, further discussions seems pointless.

The two definitions are more or less consistent, and there is no "hidden axiom." To say that something is capable of happening is to say that it's possible for it to happen. If there's no evidence to say that something is capable of happening, then the claim is arbitrary, baseless, neither true nor false. The fact that someone can "conceive" of something doesn't make it possible, but that depends upon what you mean by "conceive." There's a distinction between fantasy and reality after all.

The arbitrary is neither true nor false; it's baseless. It's as though nothing was said, and in fact nothing was said. It is more than futile to argue with those who accept the arbitrary. Arguing with them lends an air of rationality to their irrationality.

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Trebor, while your views make sense, they don't match those of Rand/Piekoff.

The arbitrary is neither true nor false; it's baseless.

According to Rand, it's false. She claims God does not exist. She also claims that the proof of that is simple.

The two definitions are more or less consistent, and there is no "hidden axiom."

They're quite different. The Rand/Piekoff definition of 'possible' requires evidence. The mainstream definitions of 'possible' do not. Her hidden axiom seems to be that a(n arbitrary) claim with no evidence is impossible and false.

To say that something is capable of happening is to say that it's possible for it to happen.

According to Rand/Peikoff, that's not the case. A silly example of a claim: "Trebot is sending his messages from the International Space Station."

According to the mainstream defintiion, that's possible (it could happen--astronauts have sent Internet messages from the space station before and we don't know your real name) but highly unlikely. We can only say for certain it's false if/when we encounter a contradiction, such as evidence you're currently Earthbound or not one of the astronauts on the crew manifest.

According to the Rand/Peikoff definition, the claim's impossible and false simply because there's no evidence to support the claim. In logical circles there's a name for their logical fallacy--Argument Ad Absurdum. They're pretending to know the truth something, without actually having to take the time required to properly investigate it.

At least we both agree it's irrational to believe you're actually sending messages from the space station.

Edited by LifeIsAbsurd
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I am not going to argue with Mr Absurd, but for those who cannot see through the irrationality of his reasoning, I would like to make a comment about some of his claims.

It is simply absurd and, to be frank, ludicrous to claim that Objectivism engages in an "appeal to ignorance", when it demands that one appeal to some actual evidence before one claim something is possible. This is the complete opposite of an appeal to ignorance; it is an appeal to knowledge of reality.

Mr Absurd reveals himself when he says that this is "not very logical". This means that to appeal to knowledge of reality is "not very logical", but to appeal to _groundless fantasies_ mistaken for reality, supposedly is.

What is it he reveals about himself when he says this? Well, the implicit premise in Mr Absurd's "reasoning" (if you can call it that) is that if you can imagine something then it is possible - regardless of the facts of reality. (This is to confuse fantasizing with thinking.)

The implicit premise behind this reasoning is the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. If you know why this dichotomy is invalid, then you can also see why Mr Absurd's reasoning is false. (For details I refer people who are truly interested to Dr Peikoff's essay "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" available in Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.)

As for the general claim that the burden of proof lies on everybody, not only the one who makes the positive claim, I say that rest, in part, on the same false premise. In part it rest on using the concept "evidence" as a stolen concept. For an elaboration on that point, listen to Dr Peikoff here:

http://www.peikoff.com/2008/09/01/is-or-is-not-the-absence-of-evidence-an-evidence-of-absence/

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When you say possible, you mean it the way Peikoff defines it:

I asked you for evidence, not definitions. You made a claim and it is up to you to support your claim. What evidence do you have that these things are possible? Please don't sidestep the question with definitions; present evidence to support your claim.

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If the police tomorrow called me and claimed I murdered someone at 9pm tonight in Madrid, Spain I would prove the negative by showing them recent receipts and naming a few witnesses who saw me tonight.

Recent receipts? They could have been bought by someone else. CCTV evidence of you in the shop buying the items? You could have a secret twin or an alien doppleganger. Your secret twin could have fooled all your witnesses too.

Prove that you don't have a secret twin. You can't? Then you can't prove you didn't murder the person at 9pm in Madrid, Spain. This is the mess agnosticism gets one into.

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"Prove you're not a murderer" claims nothing. It's a request for evidence with which the person may or may not comply.

Correct. The claimant (of anything) must provide proof.

And that is precisely the issue. Among mystics, the burden of proof is always on the listener to prove his assertions are not true. It is manifestly clear that you, like all agnostics and others who cannot conceive of the integrated and hierarchical nature of logic and thus grant equal status to mysticism and rationality, are a mystic claiming a false pretense at rationality.

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Trebor, while your views make sense, they don't match those of Rand/Piekoff.

According to Rand, it's false. She claims God does not exist. She also claims that the proof of that is simple.

They're quite different. The Rand/Piekoff definition of 'possible' requires evidence. The mainstream definitions of 'possible' do not. Her hidden axiom seems to be that a(n arbitrary) claim with no evidence is impossible and false.

According to Rand/Peikoff, that's not the case. A silly example of a claim: "Trebot is sending his messages from the International Space Station."

According to the mainstream defintiion, that's possible (it could happen--astronauts have sent Internet messages from the space station before and we don't know your real name) but highly unlikely. We can only say for certain it's false if/when we encounter a contradiction, such as evidence you're currently Earthbound or not one of the astronauts on the crew manifest.

According to the Rand/Peikoff definition, the claim's impossible and false simply because there's no evidence to support the claim. In logical circles there's a name for their logical fallacy--Argument Ad Absurdum. They're pretending to know the truth something, without actually having to take the time required to properly investigate it.

At least we both agree it's irrational to believe you're actually sending messages from the space station.

You're claim about "sending messages from space stations" is still bound to being possible because we have sent people to space and we have sent messages from space. It is the same thing as Leonardo's flying machine. There is evidence of it's existence and possibility so it is not arbitrary.

Evidence is derived from our senses. No court of law will accept the arbitrary as evidence, even if it is "possible" (which I feel hesitant to say because it really is a groundless claim until there is evidence to support its plausibility). Without evidence, there can be no claim. The dictionary entry you provide does not even get away from that. You know things are possible because they have evidence to support their plausibility. Without the evidence, you have a baseless, arbitrary claim. You can see the logical mess that derives from having such flawed reasoning.

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If the police tomorrow called me and claimed I murdered someone at 9pm tonight in Madrid, Spain I would prove the negative by showing them recent receipts and naming a few witnesses who saw me tonight.

If your position on agnosticism cannot rule out the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient controller of the entire universe, how could it possibly rule out your being in two places at once? An omnipotent god could easily arrange that.

My point is that even in this situation, you're proving a positive: you're proving you were in place Y when the murder occurred in place X. If someone were really agnostic about the types of things you're suggesting we be agnostic about, that would not be sufficient to prove the negative you're trying to prove. In fact, nothing would be sufficient. You cannot prove a negative.

Edited by Dante
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The dictionaries is full of definitions. The American Heritage is my usual choice. I chose definition #3, the first which fits most Gods that people tend to discuss, such as the Christian God or the god of the seas Poseidon: "A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality."

As far as I can tell, no part of that definition conflicts with any of what you've written.

I would also disagree with "One out of many". It's highly probably the being we just defined is non-existant and there's a slim possibility it's unique.

Since we just defined God that doesn't apply.

"A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality."

This is not a definition but description of arbitrary concept. Definition is what separates species from the rest members of the genus by it essential property. There is no such a thing as a genus of supernatural. Supernatural means that something exists without to be part of existence, which is contradiction in terms. Whatever is not part of existence cannot have any properties and therefore cannot be defined. Even descriptive definition applicable only to existent objects, not to fantasies. Only objects or relationships could be defined. If God is defined than he is an object with certain properties which separate him from all other objects. He is therefore limited, part of existence and thus, not God.

Edited by Leonid
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  • 1 month later...

While I don't accept your particular example of something which at the time had no evidence for it (flying was shown to be mechanically possible by many organisms, including birds and insects), it is true that sometimes beliefs which have no evidence for them later turn out to be true. This does not refute or in any way weaken the argument that Ayn Rand was making. Until some evidence is presented, there is no systematic way of separating these types of claims from any other random claim (e.g. the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Evidence is the only basis on which to separate one claim from another. Any claim for which there is absolutely no evidence must be regarded as arbitrary. An attempt to live consistently by any other policy leads to madness, and any attempt to live generally by this policy but make exceptions for whatever you want is equivalent to throwing out epistemological rules altogether.

Not only that, but someone actually beat him to it. I believe there was an Islamic aviator in the Arabian Golden age

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  • 3 weeks later...

would do you make of this description of an agnostic:

An agnostic doesn't simply "not know". An agnostic can also believe that there *is* no knowing - that there might be something, but if there is, it's of a form that is unknowable. I, for instance, believe that there *may* be some force out there, but I *firmly* believe that no human can possibly have the slightest idea of how to conceptualize it or affect it or know how to communicate with it, yet I still place myself among the ranks of agnostics. This is not an issue of knowing or not knowing (that is, "being sure"). This is an issue of believing that whatever is out there is unknowable, even were it to present itself. It's a difference between certitude and understanding. It's like the difference between not having a powerful enough microscope and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. If you don't have a microscope powerful enough, you won't know what an electron looks like. However, Heisenberg goes farther, in that he asserted that you can't *ever* know. It is intrinsically unknowable, so there's no point in speculation.

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I've been an agnostic before I came to understand that acknowledging the possibility for which no evidence (not even theoretical evidence) exists is like saying, "Well you can't prove that unicorns aren't real magical creatures, so they MIGHT exist."

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